Want to travel the world and make a world of difference? It’s easier than you think
The summer that Josh Moshenberg was 16, while his friends were hanging by the lake or cruising the mall, he travelled with his mother, Erica Ehm, on a life-changing trip to Kenya.
The pair visited a Maasai village as part of an immersive trip with ME to WE, the social enterprise arm of the WE Charity organization founded by Canadian brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.
“When Josh left for Kenya, he was a boy,” recounts Ehm, founder and CEO of YMC.ca and former Much Music host. “When he came home, he was a man.”
The volunteer experience they shared is just one of many offered each year by ME to WE, which also takes youth, young adults, families, school groups and company teams to work on development projects in places such as India, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Amazon.
“The opportunity to make a difference through acts of service was powerful for my son,” she says. “Volunteering to build a school room, sweating with exertion in the hot sun and watching the walls rise in front of him gave him a sense of accomplishment and pride.”
For a growing number of travellers, making a positive impact while abroad has shot up to the top of the bucket list. And for good reason: Trips that let you give back offer a meaningful experience beyond the beach and spa. Increasing awareness of social, racial and environmental issues, as well as a desire for something unusual and far-reaching, is fuelling the rise in purpose-driven travel.
The link between travel experiences and lending a hand away from home is supported by research. In a 2018 survey from travel intelligence firm Skift, more than 60 percent of respondents looked for travel experiences to gain a new perspective on the world.
Travel with ME to WE offers that transformational change that comes with giving back. It means volunteering on projects that support one of five pillars — education, water, health, food or opportunity — to eliminate the obstacles hindering communities. The work is driven by the community and its needs. Alongside locals, you might lay bricks for schools, help plant crops, dig trenches for irrigation and walk the beaten path to water — just as they do.
Seasoned travellers and those seeking a deeper meaning that aligns with their personal values will find a sense of purpose on ME to WE trips. There are no tourists, but there is a deep sense of community given the organization’s 20-year history of development work.
The journeys are designed to lift local communities and help create change, but also to make personal connections and encourage self-discovery. Participants are exposed to new cultures and novel experiences that spark empathy, compassion and understanding. There are professional benefits, as well: critical thinking, language skills and leadership training, among others.
More than a stamp in a passport, it's about being part of something bigger than yourself — or, “travelling with purpose” as the organization puts it. You’ll return with a new sense of global citizenship — and with an ongoing commitment to social responsibility.
Take 16-year-old Josh, for example. “The experience lit a fire in him to give back, to do something meaningful,” Erica says. ”By the time we had returned home, Josh had singlehandedly launched his fundraising initiative, Project Fingers to Fist, leveraging his talent for photography to build a school in Kenya.”
So what’s involved in a trip like this? Far from roughing it, the level of detail on ME to WE’s volunteer trips is superior to a one-size-fits-all vacation. The trips are fully escorted from arrival until your return with all the details looked after.
Some 15,000 youth and adults have travelled with the organization safely since 2002, a testament to the organization's deep partnerships and numerous measures and protocols in place. From rigorous facilitator training and pre-trip registration with the embassy to secure transportation and 24-hour communication in destination, security is top priority.
ME to WE's signature lodges in India, Ecuador and Kenya are first-class and furnished with all the comforts of home.
“You’re living in the lap of luxury … where you will lack for nothing,” Ehm says. “ME to WE trips are a very safe and gentle introduction to the local culture.”
Finally, adventure and exploration are woven into the itineraries. Whether you’re searching for the Big Five on safari in Kenya, trekking the Amazon rainforest or participating in a traditional Hindu prayer ceremony in India, each activity puts participants side by side with the local community.
Escorted Ecuador: Travel Well and Do Good With ME to WE
Do you have a yearning to see the world, but want to have an authentic experience while doing some good? Travelzoo has partnered with ME to WE to offer an escorted trip to Ecuador, where you can help out local farmers, trek the Amazon rainforest and attend a shamanic ceremony, all while staying in a 4-star lodge. Half of the proceeds go to WE Charity and directly contribute to its partner communities.
ME to WE Trips
Find out more about ME to WE’s volunteer trips and read testimonials about the experience from past travellers.
Youth Trips: Immersion experience for 13- to 18-year-olds to the Amazon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania.
“I just truly loved learning everything I did, meeting all the people (local and those travelling alongside me), and all the great memories made along the way.” — Kassandra, 17, Kenya
University Trips: Tailored for young adults aged 18-25, these trips work with WE Charity communities on a sustainable development project.
“I did not overly know what to expect going into the trip but it was nothing like I had expected. The trip changed my life in a positive way and it would not have been the same without the organization and dedication ME to WE put into planning the trip.” — Jessica, 20, Amazon
Adult and Family Trips: For all ages, these trips are designed to bring families together through meaningful experiences.
“I think the positive experience I had can be directly attributed to watching my kids thrive, and how WE gave them the opportunity to experience how taking meaningful action can be enjoyable, fun and feel good for everyone! Asante!” — Jill, 44, Kenya
School and Group Trips: Teachers and students explore new cultures and volunteer on on sustainable development projects.
“This experience is something that will impact my life forever. Meeting the people of the community of El Trapiche was truly inspiring. My facilitators, Michelle, Susan and Marijke, made the trip even more special for me.” — Isabel, 16, Nicaragua
Corporate Trips: Company teams come together to volunteer in a partner community on a project driven by need, such as the foundation for a school.
“From start to finish this has been the most wonderful, eye-opening, humbling and beautiful experience of my life. I feel able to share my experience and the work of WE so much more passionately now having seen the great work and impact on the rural communities of Rajasthan. So well organised, I embraced every minute with a wonderful group of people and would jump at the chance to be involved again.” — Victoria, 40, India